Review: 'The Hot Spot (Special Edition)' is One of Hopper's Finest

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 4, 2021

Dennis Hopper directed a total of seven films. The groundbreaking "Easy Rider" (1969) is easily his most famous. "Catchfire" (1990) is arguably his most controversial, simply because he disowned the initial cut but then completed his own director's cut, known as "Backtrack."

The idiosyncratic artist's acting career spanned six decades and included films such as "Giant," "Cool Hand Luke," "True Grit," "Apocalypse Now," "Blue Velvet," and "Hoosiers," the last of which garnered Hopper an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Hopper's penultimate directorial achievement, "The Hot Spot," is a little known, noir-inspired gem, also released in 1990, and starring Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, and Jennifer Connelly.

Rich in colors, mood, and atmosphere, "The Hot Spot" is an odd, quirky, and sexy cinematic endeavor centering on the enigmatic Harry Maddox (Johnson) who drifts into a small Texas town and instantly ingratiates himself into a job as a used car salesman. Our larcenous 36-year-old protagonist begins a torrid romance with his boss's wife, the dangerous Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen). Harry also crushes on 19-year old Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), which doesn't please Dolly much. In his spare time he robs a bank and comes to blows with the town extortionist, Frank Sutton (William Sadler).

The pulpy screenplay, by Nona Tyson and Charles Williams, is based on Williams' crime novel "Hell Hath No Fury."

One gets the feeling Hopper was mightily influenced by the films of "Blue Velvet" helmer David Lynch, as well as Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" and Lawrence Kasden's "Body Heat." Oh, and Douglas Sirk. The movie is a visual splendor.

Hopper manages to get terrific performances from a few of his actors, and just so-so work from others. Johnson is rather unbothered and indifferent here, which throws things off. Connelly isn't given much to do except look young (too young) and ravishing, and she does that well.

Sadler steals all his scenes as a nasty, selfish, dastardly character. The actor takes this one-dimensionally written role and smashes it to smithereens. He's that good.

As riveting as Sadler is, Madsen owns the film, delivering a wacky, daring, off-the-cliff leap of a femme fatale performance. She puts the eros in this erotic thriller, and shakes things up to such a degree that when she is off-screen we cannot wait for her return. The climactic scene is a treat, thanks to her go-for-broke take on Dolly. It's a shame the film did not do well on release, or Madsen might have had a more lucrative career before she was finally re-discovered in "Sideways" (2004).

This Kino Lorber edition is a brand new 2K master, color graded and approved by cinematographer Ueli Steiger (whose camerawork is stunning). And the audio is impressive as well.

The special features include the theatrical trailer, a treat of an audio commentary by entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman, and two new interviews that are way too short - but great nonetheless.

In a seven-minute chat, Virginia Madsen discusses the fact that it wasn't an easy shoot, and that she did not like her performance but Hopper insisted she would rewatch it in 10 years and think differently (which she did). She praises Hopper but, strangely, has nothing to say about Johnson.

Sadler, in a six-minute segment, discusses playing a predatory bad boy and glowingly praises Hopper.

Pick up "The Hot Spot Special Edition," and enjoy a sassy, evocative, highly stylized neo-Noir pic with an epic, dynamite turn by Virginia Madsen.

"The Hot Spot Special Edition" is available now.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.